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How to manage a career break

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Get ready for your return to work

If your career break was due to unemployment, reassess your priorities. What has your experience taught you about your values? What type of work do you really want to do?
It might be tempting to start applying for roles in a panic or send out as many CVs as you can. However, save time (and energy) by understanding the answers to these questions beforehand. Then, when you're in front of a potential employer, you can convey your interest in the role with far greater certainty.

Once you're sure about the career you'd like to return to, it's time to do your research. Make sure you're aware of both the internal environment (if you're returning to a previous employer) and the external environment (the external factors or market trends affecting your industry).

Getting this information can be a relatively low-maintenance process. Blogs, social media and newsletters provide you with a trickle of information to read at your leisure.

If you are employed but off work for an extended period of time, keeping-in-touch (KIT) days offer a valuable means of maintaining a working relationship when you are on leave. The rationale underlying KIT days is sound: if an employee is away from work for many months, it would be easy for them to feel disengaged from the workplace and apprehensive about returning after a long period of absence. It is in both the individual’s and employer’s interest to maintain contact and involvement with each other throughout this period.
KIT days offer you the opportunity to maintain a sense of commitment to the organisation and their promotion by the employer can send a positive message to an employee on leave that they are a valued member of the team.
Take control of your continuing professional development

At work you might have relied on your organisation to structure your learning and professional development, so it’s vital you create this structure for yourself when you're away from work. When you think of personal/professional development, think about what skills you need to accomplish the results required, both in your role and for life in general. It is about improving your talents and potential, both in and out of the workplace.

Establish exactly what skills you need to succeed in your role. This may be influencing skills, you may need to manage teams, or inspire individuals. It may be that you need to be able to manage upwards or have excellent delegation skills. When you are able to identify these needs, you are able to work towards a personal development plan.
Some examples of personal development are:
Articulate the value of your experience

People generally understand the personal gains that can come from taking a break from employment, but often undervalue the professional gains. In reality, there are plenty of skills that you'll have developed which are valuable to employers.

If you've been caring for young children or elderly relatives, there's no doubt that you'll have developed a resilience in coping with new challenges, not to mention communication skills and problem-solving skills. If you've been travelling, you may have developed an understanding of different cultures or a more well-rounded world view. It shows adaptability and flexibility and a certain sense of risk-taking. Whatever the experience, you'll return from it a different person with a fresh outlook.

You may feel apprehensive in explaining gaps in employment history. If so, there are two main ways to combat this. Firstly, you can opt for a functional CV format as opposed to a chronological format. This will help you to highlight the skills and experience you want to put forward. It's also a good idea to be upfront about the experience, and use it as a leverage point. Treat your career break as a role in itself, with clear dates and if possible, a CAR (challenge-action-result) approach to explaining what you've achieved.
Maintain and even grow your network

Make sure you maintain some level of visibility within your professional community whilst you're away. Once you’re ready to re-join the market, these networks will ensure you can take advantage of the types of opportunities that don't always appear through agencies or recruitment sites.

Even if you're returning to the same organisation as before, it can be invaluable to keep an awareness of the shifting nature of the social landscape. That way you can hit the ground running on your return, instead of playing catch up.
Staying involved doesn't have to mean attending events. Webinars are increasingly used for networking and can offer you far greater flexibility. It may also be a good opportunity to develop your social media presence, through connecting with like-minded people on forums and social networking sites.
Taking a career break is more common than you may think, despite the stigma that is sometimes attached behind how potential candidates will fill that void. Everyone has different career ladders they climb at their own pace depending on what their goals are in life. So if you’re feeling apprehensive about jumping back into workforce after a career break, remember these tips to put you on the right path with renewed confidence and contact us, we’re here to help.